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These cautions are important because if you really like those earnest, self-important, plodding PBS telenovellas like The Jewel in the Crown, you are unlikely to be happy with this sharp and original work. Madhur Jaffrey gives a first-rate performance with the sort of creative adventurousness one usually associates more with live theater than commercial film. Cotton Mary is not likeable, though she is funny; it took guts for Jaffrey and Merchant not to sentimentalize the situation. It almost certainly cost them box office. But this is thoughtful film making and gutsy, hard as steel satire. This is something other than the usual soft hearted and soft minded claptrap usually cranked out about postcolonial India.
One quibble: it could have been shorter by at least 20 minutes. For instance, the whole Charley's Aunt business could have been eliminated without any serious loss in content.
On the other hand, her mistress, dope that she is, is susceptible to all of this. Which I found to be a frustrating part early on in the movie. Rest assured her stupidity will be corrected later in the movie. By the time that it is though, I was almost starting to marvel at Mary.. She is one twisted lady - though her mental extremism is largely the product of colonial history combined with her own culture and personal background.
Mary is not a likable character - she's a character, all right, but likable probably isn't one of the words that'll come to mind when you recall her. And yet this very well-done character study of a movie wouldn't have been the intriguing piece of work that it was without her. The movie never asks you to like her, but what she is says something. And no, I wouldn't call this movie satire. Just as I wouldn't call "A Passage to India" satire (which, BTW, is an excellent movie - even if you didn't like this one). There was only one scene which made me wonder, and that was when the new butler (a relative presumably) makes his entrance. We see him pulling flowers out of some flower pots (plant and all).Read more ›
The plot is ridiculous. How can a mother show no interest at all in how her baby is being fed? Certainly a tiny baby needs to be fed more than once a day. And certainly, they had baby bottles and formula in 1954. The woman's husband, who is a philandering and uncaring journalist doesn't care either. And their older daughter who is about eight years old keeps the secret of these clandestine feedings.
There's more to the story of course. There are the snobby British colonials and the legacy of colonialism. There is the trusted Indian servant who is forced out of his job because of the lies of Cotton Mary. There is Cotton Mary's niece who has an affair with the husband. But mostly the film is about Cotton Mary herself and her descent into mental illness.
The story is awful but the film still had a few things going for it. One was the great acting job of Madhur Jeffrey cast as Cotton Mary. Another was the setting and excellent photography that transported me to a time and place in India that Merchant-Ivory does so well. But the story itself is preposterous and much too long and boring.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Eh, it was good enough to give it three stars, but I don't think
its worth owning.
This satirical comedy drama seems to be lost on pretty much everyone who has commented on it. And while the story might seem ridiculous for some viewers, it will not be for anyone... Read morePublished 23 months ago by addison de witt
Very stereotypical biased film. Disappointed in Merchant and IvoryPublished 24 months ago by Blair R. Williams
It was good and gave us a good insight into British India & the people who worked for them.Pleasant viewing.Published on July 19, 2013 by Rosemary
Merchant Ivory became a trusted name with the quality of its early films. With this one it loses all credibility. Unlikeable or illogical characters and almost no story. Read morePublished on May 15, 2013 by MovieMusic
Without doubt, this film is a feast for the eyes, but not for the mind.
It has a simple plot. Read more
Very well written...a good movie for people who have lived through the British era in India and not of pure Indian decent. Read morePublished on May 14, 2008 by B. mason